A stethoscope and a white coat do not a doctor make.
And fluency in German isn’t just about knowing how to say “Danke” or “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
In fact, there’s much more that goes into specializing in medicine—and mastering the German language.
Imagine combining the two, and it may feel like there’s an insurmountable mountain of work ahead of you.
But complementing your healing skills with a few German phrases here and there may do more for your medical career than you thought possible.
After reading this post, you’ll have the ability to communicate with German-speaking patients so you can better triage their issues.
We use language to describe the world around us, including our own bodies. So if you can get to the root of the problem in a language you both understand, it makes the healing process go much more smoothly.
Plus, showing off to your nursing pals might just be the icing on the cake!
German for Nurses: An Hour of Study a Day Keeps the German Blues Away!
Why Is It Important for Nurses to Learn German?
All boasting aside, learning at least a few key phrases in German may be the difference between life and death for some patients.
Removing a language barrier between you and your patient cuts down on the time spent attempting to translate the symptoms they’re experiencing. When you speak to your patient in their native language, you can be much more precise—which is especially important when fine details are the difference between diagnoses.
Fluency in a second language also sets you apart from the competition. If you’re looking to practice medicine in a German-speaking country, fluency in the native language only makes sense.
Nevermind the fact that learning a second language is the first step in a lifelong journey of viewing the world from a new perspective.
What Does It Take to Become a Nurse in Germany?
Like most healthcare systems, the nursing programs in Germany focus on specialized care to various age groups.
Expect to spend at least three years studying, with the first two years spent generalizing in nursing methods. In the final year, you’ll choose to continue in general nursing or focus further upon geriatrics or pediatrics. Whatever you choose, you’ll need a license to practice.
As you might’ve guessed, proficiency in the German language is also required. Nursing candidates must either have had this training already or be willing to undergo language training. These intensive courses do their best to bring students up to speed in basic German-speaking skills so they can better communicate with their patients.
Where Can You Learn German Specifically for Nursing?
Don’t go signing up for language classes just yet. Nurses who want to learn German to further their studies actually have quite a few resources to choose from because Germany is experiencing a shortage of nursing staff.
And, as is the case in many countries—including the United States—the German population continues to age. Those patients who didn’t grow up learning a second language require nursing staff who can meet their needs. And in some cases, that requires bringing in foreign nursing staff to fill in the gap. At least until they hire you, that is.
A quick search on Language International brings up a list of courses, schools and their locations. Each entry includes information such as course type, duration and age range. If you’re looking for just a course, Language International notes the price. However, if you’ll be staying nearby, you can also find information about housing costs. Courses are even rated and reviewed so you can make the best decision before enrolling.
If you’re not able to travel to a German-speaking country, you can also check out PET-Sprachen. This program addresses nursing needs directly with coursework designed to train candidates for certification.
Choose from three courses, each designed to address your particular level of need in regards to language training. For example, Course 3 offers individualized sessions that allow you to determine your level and adjust your further training accordingly. But if you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want to enroll in Course 1. This program not only teaches you German but prepares you for the proficiency test as well.
You’ve likely heard of the Goethe-Institut before. Their Goethe-Test PRO Pflege course certifies nurses with the requirements necessary to begin a career. The focus lies upon reading, writing and speaking German for the medical workplace. Rather than starting out at a beginner level and working up from the basics, like the alphabet and numbers, students will immediately be introduced to situations that they’ll encounter as a nurse.
From talking to patients and other doctors to reading and writing reports, prospective nurses will start out at the same level as every other student but will be able to adjust their learning as they demonstrate proficiency.
German Organization for Nursing Professionals
To start off networking, check out the German Nurses Association, also known as the Deutscher Berufsverband für Pflegeberufe (German Organization for Nursing Professionals). Their list of resources will prove invaluable to any nursing candidate. Listed on their homepage are the benefits you can take advantage of if you do become a member. This isn’t some organization you simply join for its mailing list. Members are actively encouraged to participate in activities like policy-making and continued education.
German for Nurses: Critical Terms and Phrases
We couldn’t bring you nursing resources in German without giving you a few German medical terms to start out with. Below, you’ll find both vocabulary words (including a few body parts in German) and some phrases you might want to memorize if nursing is your calling.
To learn even more medical terms in German, check out FluentU’s video series on German for doctors.
Each video comes with interactive captions so you can click on any word to look it up and see it used in example sentences and additional videos.
You can also easily add words to customized vocabulary lists and flashcard sets. Then, practice what you’ve studied with quizzes!
And now, for our German vocab list for nurses:
der Kopf — head
das Herz — heart
die Lunge — lungs
die Blutgruppe — blood type
die Medikation — medication
das Nahrungsergänzungsmittel — (dietary) supplement
die Allergie — allergy
die Krankengeschichte — medical history
die Operation (die OP) — surgery
die Apotheke — pharmacy
die Impfung — vaccination
der Blutdruck — blood pressure
die Nadel — needle
der Puls — pulse
die Krankenversicherung — health insurance
die Krankenkasse —health insurer
das Gewicht — weight
die Temperatur — temperature
Was ist denn mit Ihnen heute los? — So, what’s the problem today?
Ich bin hier, um Ihnen zu helfen. — I’m here to help you.
Sind Sie gegen etwas allergisch? — Are you allergic to anything?
Der Arzt/Die Ärztin ist in ein Paar Minuten bei Ihnen. — The doctor will see you shortly.
Nehmen Sie schon Medikamente? — Do you take any medications?
Haben Sie ihre die Gesundheitskarte? — Do you have your health card?
Vielen Dank, dass Sie heute gekommen sind. — Thank you for coming in today.
If you ever find yourself lacking a German word or phrase, try circumlocution (using words you know to describe something rather than striving for a one-to-one translation). It’s a bit like charades but can work wonders if you’re not sure what else to do.
Take a break from your medical textbooks and pick up a few German phrases. Because knowing some German words can help set you apart from others when it comes to interviews, resumes and applications.
There’s definitely a need for German-speaking nurses, both abroad and at home. Aging populations may express themselves better in German, and the ability to speak intimately with them could prove invaluable!
Rebecca Henderson holds a degree in German and Creative Writing. She’s the editor behind The Kreativ Space and hopes to shift your world perspective through her words, because looking out the same window every day hardly makes for an interesting life.
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